What Makes the Pot Strain ‘Charlotte’s Web’ So Special?

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Three Republican state senators in Florida introduced a bill on Wednesday that would make a certain type of marijuana used to treat epilepsy in children — known colloquially as “Charlotte’s Web” — legal for medical use.

Florida is already considering legalizing medical marijuana. Democrats introduced two bills earlier this week. If those don’t pass, voters will have the chance to approve medicinal pot at the ballot box this November.

Yet a group of Republican lawmakers decided to back a narrower bill, which would only make Charlotte’s Web legal.

What’s so special about this type of pot?

The basic difference is that the strain has a strong concentration of one type of chemical compound, cannabidiol (CBD). Anecdotal evidence has shown that marijuana that contains heavy concentrations of CBD is useful for treating some conditions, like severe seizures.

The compound occurs naturally in marijuana, but it’s only one of dozens of chemical combinations in the drug.

You’ll recognize the most famous compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). That’s the one that gets you high — the psychoactive component.

A pot extract that gives the user a lot of CBD (the pain killer) and very little THC (the mood enhancer) could be more appealing to conservatives who understand the need for weed as medicine, but want to make sure no one is getting high from it.

Florida Republicans don’t specifically call for the legalization of Charlotte’s Web in their bill, but the name has become shorthand for weed with high CBD content.

The brand comes from one of Colorado’s largest dispensaries, owned by a group of brothers. They named the strain after a young patient, 6-year-old Charlotte Figi, whose desperate parents turned to medicinal marijuana to treat her epileptic seizures. Her story became nationally known when the family was featured in a documentary by CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.

“The name 'Charlotte’s Web' means nothing, other than it is a brand name associated with a particular strain that a particular family grows,” said Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “It’s not as if there are not plenty of varieties of marijuana that are grown that have high CBD content and low THC content.”

Still, it’s taken on a life of its own after the publicity from CNN. The inspirational story has drawn some families to Colorado to look for a drug to help sick children.

Of course, marijuana is still a banned substance in the eyes of the federal government, so the effects of CBD haven’t been thoroughly studied in the U.S. A New York Times op-ed published Wednesday by two physicians at the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center called on the government to loosen regulations so that the drug can be studied more thoroughly — and for patients to proceed with caution in the meantime.

“It is troubling that while few barriers exist for parents to give their children marijuana in Colorado, there are significant federal roadblocks preventing doctors from studying it in a rigorous scientific manner,” they wrote.

The Takeaway: There’s bipartisan support for limited medicinal pot in Florida, but legalizing one strain of cannabis won’t satisfy pro-marijuana activists and residents.

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Yet the federal government classifies the drug as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning it has “no currently accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”